As adults we know that we came into this world to be “givers and doers.” Although Western culture encourages people to sit back, relax, anyone who has done research on the matter knows that this attitude does not produce an inner state of happiness. People who hang on to age-old values of hard work and community service are much happier people inside.

With this in mind, we tell children that it’s important to perform certain tasks, even if they’d rather be indulging themselves in something else instead. Doing the right thing will make them happier in the long run.

As parents, our job is to model doing what’s right, and one way we can achieve that is by being sensitive and supportive to whatever our children are struggling with. I’m going to present you with a technique called “Prior Notice” that can profoundly increase your child’s chance of complying with his or her least favorite tasks.

“Prior Notice” is exactly what it sounds like – giving your child advance notice about a task that needs to be performed. Everyone performs better when they are emotionally prepared for difficult tasks they’d rather not be involved in.

Imagine your boss tells you suddenly, “Next week you will be staying in the office till 8:00pm every night. You will be compensated by the hour.” Most probably your reaction would be indignation –something like, “Excuse me. I only work till 3:00pm. Is he joking?!?!” Because you know that if you refuse to stay till 8:00pm you will lose your job, you comply resentfully, but do not perform as well as you normally would.

Now imagine the scenario unfolding differently… Your boss comes to you and says, “Tomorrow I am giving you a letter telling you that you have to stay late next week. I really wish it didn’t have to be this way but our company is struggling. When I give you the letter, I need your help boosting the morale of the office staff. I’d like them to still come away with the feeling that this is a great place to work, even though the current situation is not ideal. I would be really thankful if you could do this for me.” Suddenly, the unwanted workload becomes more palatable because your boss has preparedyou by telling you howhe needs you in order to be successful.

You, too, can use this strategy to help your children listen. The table in the next column describes the simple steps needed to implement it.

How to Use “Prior Notice”
as a Behavior Management Tool

1.Tell the child that you will supply him or her with a command. (“I’m going to tell you to get into the shower…”)

2.Tell the child that you are aware of why  this situation is difficult for him. (“…even though I know you wish you could continue playing hockey.”)

3. Tell him that he will do the command, and gain ________ from it. (“If you get into the shower right away, you will be allowed to stay up for an extra five minutes.”)

4.Give the command. (“Okay, Jack. Get in the shower.”)

State all of these steps very quickly in one breath. The trick is to use this technique BEFORE the child says, “No” toyour request.

A parent of a preschooler told me that she was completely ignored whenever she told her child to put his plate in the garbage. She tried “Prior Notice” as a Behavior Management Tool and said, “Robert, I’m going to tell you to throw your plate away. You’re going to put it in the garbage, and then you will feel very mature.” As soon as she said “Robert, your plate,” he threw it away and felt more independent.

An Example of “Prior Notice”
as a Behavior Management Tool for a Preschooler

●“I’m going to tell you to put away your train set even though
you love to play with it.”

●“You will put it away, even though you really don’t want to stop
playing now.”

●“Then I’m going to smile and compliment you on being flexible.”

●“Okay, put away your train set.”

Homework: For homework this month, use “Prior Notice” to encourage compliance with previously avoided tasks, one day at a time, and one behavior at a time. You will see a difference!

Tammy Sassoon is a behavioral therapist and parenting coach. She gives live workshops as well as “train by phone” telecourses to teachers, principals, therapists, and parents, in order to help them gain compliance from even the most oppositional children. She can be contacted through her website,